I am not a native speaker of English, but I study English and Dutch. I have noticed that the two languages differ in their degree of flexibility. The following sentence, for example, is not acceptable to most English speakers:

... but this is not for everyone so.

I realise that this might be a too literal translation from Dutch:

... maar dit is niet voor iedereen zo.

Dutch, however, permits both constituent orders:

... maar dit is niet voor iedereen zo.

... maar dit is niet zo voor iedereen.

Since Dutch and English are closely related, I found it interesting that they should differ with respect to their constituent ordering flexibility.

... but this is not for everyone so.

... but this is not so for everyone.

Can anyone explain in a more systematic way the main differences between English and Dutch (or another Germanic language) with respect to word-order flexibility?

  • 1
    I do not believe this shows that Dutch is more flexible: they just have different degrees of flexibility in different constructions and with different words. Cf. By doing so / by so doing v. *door te doen zo / door zo te doen. And sometimes I hate her / I sometimes hate her / I hate her sometimes v. soms haat ik haar / *ik soms haat haar / ik haat haar soms. Notice also how different positions change the meaning of the sentence somewhat.
    – Cerberus
    Oct 26, 2012 at 22:44
  • @Bram Vanroy and Cerberus. That's the question, I think. Is there any meaning difference in your two Dutch examples? Would you use them in slightly different contexts or are they interchangeable? The construction does seem to be highly marked, if not ungrammatical in English, based on a brief search I just did in google books.
    – lapropriu
    Oct 27, 2012 at 17:04

1 Answer 1


The difference you point to has to do with the position of predicative and non-predicative expressions in sentences. English usually places non-predicative PPs after the predicate, e.g.

(1) a. It was funny for the kids. b. *It was for the kids funny.

In this example, funny is a predicative adjective; it forms the predicate with was. German and (I assume) Dutch have two options for placing non-predicative expressions. The standard position is in the Mittelfeld (middle field) before the predicative expression, but they can also be placed in the Nachfeld (after field) after the predicative expression, e.g.

(2) a. Es war fuer die Kinder lustig. (It was for the kids funny.) b. ?Es war lustig fuer die Kinder. (It was funny for the kids.)

The first sentence is considered good German, whereas the second sentence has a looser feel; it belongs to a conversational register or is used to place emphasis on the PP.

To answer the question more directly, so is a predicative expression in the original Dutch example. As such, there are options and tendencies where non-predicative material should appear in relation to the predicate. English tends to keep the words of a predicate closer together, only certain adverbials can split the predicate, e.g. It was definitely funny, whereas German and Dutch often split the words of a predicate, creating what is known as a Mittelfeld (middle field), in which all sorts of non-predicate material is placed. But heavier constituents (e.g. PPs) can at times also appear in the Nachfeld (after field) after the predicative expression depending on register or desire for emphasis.

To understand this explanation, one needs to have some understanding of predicates and how they are manifest in German/Dutch and English. Wikipedia has a couple of articles that can help establish some of the necessary background knowledge:



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